I wish I had read L’Immoraliste around the year 1904. That would have been about two years after it was published and about two years before Picasso started distorting eyes and mouths and jaws and limbs in his painted prostitutes. I am trying to picture myself dressed in yards and yards of bombazine, chiffon and lace, shapely cut to follow my already markedly thin waist, thanks to those bone stays that have cinched it into a harness, sorry, a corset. I need to feel the effort of breathing in, languidly, and the relief of breathing out before I can breathe in again and hopefully catch the oxygen I did not quite get the previous time.I would also need to feel the weight of my long hair pinned up around my head and pulled by combs that have scratched my scalp, and may be also of a wide-brimmed hat with feathers and ribbons, sitting on top of that mass of hair. And because of all that accoutrement I would have to stay well perked up rather than lean comfortably against the back of the velvety sofa.If I want to digest this book properly, to imagine all that conscription seems more pressing than brushing up my Nietzsche.Or, if I wanted to feel a frisson in any way related to the way Michel falls under the spell of young men in Bikra, rather than dismiss it as irrelevant or accept it in a politically correct fashion; I may have to look for some kind of additional aid. Jean-Léon Gérôme, who died in the year of my hypothetical reading --1904, has a handy proposal for blending sexuality and exotic aesthetics.I would need all of the above, and other things too, to be able to appreciate the exhilaration that Michel, the claimed immoral-man, is having when in Tunisia, by the sea, he decides to take off his clothes and feel the bright sun that warms his skin and limbs and illuminates him into embracing a new life. Otherwise the idea of a scantly clad man on a beach might now evoke images of overweight tourists cooking themselves into red lobsters under a charring sun.And similarly goes for getting the conceptual implications of the contrast between classical and gothic architecture. Or for feeling deeply disturbed by the possible implications of Michel’s pursued and revealed individualism, instead of just feeling irritated by this obnoxious and egotistical jerk who is being such an ass to his poor wife.Because, sadly, many of the signs that in this book herald freedom have now lost their power, because, happily, now they are commonplace. If they did succeed in breaking conventions their effect was short-lived. If Gide’s novel can taste insipid now, and Picasso’s tortured figures have become cute magnets for the refrigerator, may be we have to look elsewhere for the liberating effect sought by modernity.What about Coco Chanel’s dispensing with the corset?Or may be not even that has changed us?